Sunderland, Hartlepool and South Tyneside Branch

Mind Games – Brain Training for Your Dog

How to keep your dog occupied with fun brain-games.

It’s important, even when we’re all stuck at home, to offer appropriate stimulation and environmental enrichment to our pets – particularly for dogs who may have bounds of energy that they are currently unable to fully exhaust through long walks and playing with friends.

Games and training tricks that are designed to allow your dog to really think about solving puzzles are one of the best ways to really engage with and occupy your dog. Plus, they give your dog focused enrichment that allows them to use their energy in a different way.

What a great opportunity to build up your bonding and playtime with your much-loved pet.

So, here are a few of our favourite ‘Mind Games’ for you to enjoy with your four-legged friends!

The Plant Pot Game

The plant pot game is simple and fun. You can play in your yard, garden, or a cosy room in the house – it’s completely up to you. What’s great, is that you can play this game with your cats too.

Start with one plant pot, or non-transparent plastic cup, upside down on the floor/ground, with a treat hidden underneath it. Allow your pet to sniff the pot, and when they show interest, lift the pot to reveal the treat.

You can do this a couple of times so that your pet gets the hang of it.

Next, add a second pot into the mix. Hide the treat under one pot only, and encourage your pet to figure out which pot the treat is under. They may need a little clue at first, so you can reveal the treat to them in the first few goes. Build up until your pet is working to figure it out on their own.

You can then keep adding pots into the mix, only hiding one or two treats each go. As the game progresses, allow your pet to nudge or knock over the pot they are interested in, revealing the reward themselves.

If the game becomes too easy for your pet, or they have a hankering for chomping on plant pots (not the aim of the game), try using saucers or small plates instead.

Simple Hide & Seek

It’s an oldie, but a goodie! And no, this game isn’t just for humans, your dog can play too. here’s how it works:

Ask your dog to wait/stay in a sitting position somewhere in the house. If your dog’s ‘stay skills’ need some work, perhaps take some time to work on this before you play.

Then, simply hide in another room, or just out of sight of your dog. When in position, call your dog to come, and reward them with some fuss or a treat when they find you.

You can also play a treat or toy version of hide and seek, where instead of hiding yourself whilst your dog is ‘staying’, you hide a treat or a favourite toy and call your dog to ‘find’, when the treat is hidden.

The Cupcake/Muffin Tray Game

A little like the plant pot game, the aim is to allow your dog to sniff out and find a treat, hidden in the spaces in your muffin tray.

To set up the game, put a treat in each section of your tray, each with a tennis ball on top. So you should have a cake/muffin tray that looks like you’ve just baked half a dozen tennis balls.

The goal of the game is simply to encourage your dog to sniff/snuffle and find the treats themselves by nudging and pawing the ball out of the way to get the reward.

It’s a simple, fun and very rewarding game.

Toys by Name

This one might take a little more practice, but is definitely worth it to really give your dog something to think about. The idea is to allow your dog to associate names with their different toys.

It’s done in the same way you would teach your dog any other command, such as sit or stay, by associating each toy with the name you choose for it. Start with one, and build up every day or two.

Say your chosen toy is a squeaky pig called ‘Oinky’. Smply play with your dog, using the toy and give praise, inserting the name as you do so. ‘Oinky, good, Oinky, yes.’ take a break from the play, then go back and repeat – ensuring that you always verbalise the word ‘Oinky’ whilst your dog is playing with the pig.

Build on this until you notice your dog associating the verbal command ‘Oinky’ with the pig toy, in the same way he associates ‘sit’ with the action. Only this time, he might just look at the toy, or go to sniff/play with it. Reward and praise each time your dog responds to ‘Oinky’ in this way.

Then build up the game until you are able to say ‘Find Oinky’.

You can do this with a number of different toys, until your dog knows each of his toys’ names. But try not to pile on too much too soon. A ten minute session a couple of times a day would be enough for this game, until your dog is really getting the hang of it.

And those are our top picks. But there are a huge range of brain games and puzzles you can explore with your dog. Always stay positive, praise, reward and, most of all, have fun.